Tuesday, 2 October 2007


Penny Kingsmill

Early Years

I was born early in the morning on 28th October 1957 at home, in Wallington, Surrey. The Family Doctor, Dr Bell, and the Mid-Wife delivered me in the bedroom of our flat. My Father waited in the room next door, no doubt the radio was on maybe the Today Programme was being born too. My Mother had been told that she could not have children. When it was discovered that she was pregnant, she was told I would be born in February, no scans in those days. It was quite a surprise when I arrived in October.

My Parents were not well off we lived in a rented flat. The family had moved out of London during the Blitz. My Grandfather was a fireman on the Isle of Dogs. My Aunt still has his brass helmet in pride of place in her hall. All of the family lived in the Eastend, they were not poor or particularly "cockney" in fact they were quite middle class. My Mother told me that one day my Grandfather had come home and cried. He had been fighting fires in the docks. He said we have all got to get out. Thats when they moved to Wallington.

My Father was a Police Officer in the Metropolitan Police Force. He joined when he came out of the Airforce after the war. I remember him driving a big black Police car with a shiny silver bell on the front. He was a Constable at Wallington Police Station until he retired in 1980. Unfortunately he died in 1984 aged 59. He was and still is my hero. He always had the answer to any question and everyone came to him for help, family, neighbours and friends. I still miss him. He often talked about the night he decided to take some time off, a way of taking back time owing. That night his colleagues went to assist at an incident on a factory rooftop in Croydon. His friend Sidney Miles was shot and killed. This was the night Craig and Bentley were arrested on the roof of Parker & Barlow warehouse.

Although I do not have brothers and sisters, I come from a big close family. We seemed to spend a lot of time together especially at Christmas and holiday times. I have happy memories of times spent with aunts, uncles and cousins.

My earliest memories are of playing in the street, with the children from the neighbourhood. There was no danger from traffic in those days. We played cowboys and indians, war games, rode our bikes and enjoyed much more freedom than today’s young children. Our games would be considered politically incorrect nowadays. The war game was always against the Germans, being only just twelve years since the war had ended. I was quite a tomboy. My favourite game was puddle splashing in the back alley, a rough track at the back of the houses. Once I got in trouble for muddying my new coat and was sent to bed after a good hiding.

I can clearly remember my first day at school. I wore a black pinafore with a badge on the front and a black velour hat also with a badge on the front. The other children were crying. I could not understand why, I had waited ages for this day and was looking forward to it. A few days later I decided I wouldn’t go anymore, that’s when I cried. In the classroom we had a huge fireplace with a big coal fire blazing and an iron guard around it. Every morning we had little bottles of milk, the teacher used to put them on the fireguard to warm.

During the bad winter of 1963 my Father built me an igloo in the back garden. He cut blocks from the frozen snow. I was the envy of the other children in the road. We did not have a fridge in those days. When it was really cold my Mother used to make a chocolate pudding that went out on the windowsill to set. My Father used to have to get in the loft and thaw the frozen pipes with a blowtorch, so that we could get water. There used to be ice on the insides of the windows, no central heating then.

Christmas was a lovely time. On Christmas Eve I used to hang my sock on the mantelpiece, next morning it was full of tangerines, nuts and shiny pennies. I would wake up and find a pillowcase full of presents at the end of my bed. All the family used to gather together at my Grandmother’s house, which was a few yards down the road. The Grandchildren had to sing Christmas carols, accompanied by my Aunt playing the piano, we all hated this and needed much coaxing. I remember that all the adults smoked, by the end of the evening the room would be full of a kind of fog. I still love Christmas and have never forgotten the warmth and happiness of those family get-togethers.
We used to go to the pantomime at the Palladium Theatre every year. I can remember seeing Cilla Black, Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele and many others.

Holidays were a real family affair we always went with aunts, uncles and cousins. We used to rent a bungalow right on the beach at Pagham, near Bognor Regis. These bungalows were made out of old train carriages, many are still there today and worth an awful lot of money. Days were spent playing on the beach with the dog or a kite and the evenings-playing board games, cards or doing a jigsaw. These were wonderful holidays, how would my family feel now if I were to suggest this as a holiday option?

Hospitals were frightening places for children in those days. I was taken to Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children, which was in Carshalton on a few occasions. Once I scalded myself by knocking a teapot over. I remember the nurses being very strict, my Parents were not allowed to stay with me. Parents were only allowed to visit for an hour a day. I had a tooth taken out at the Dentist, I can remember this horrible rubber mask being held over my face while the nurse held me down. I understand this is extremely dangerous and is not allowed now. I am still terrified, although my own dentist is very good and has never hurt me. There may have been an outbreak of smallpox around this time. My Father whisked us all off to the doctors for vaccinations. I had a very swollen arm. We were not allowed to tell anyone.

Once I was taken to see Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill. We drove there to look at the brick wall which he had built himself that surrounds the house. We peeped over the wall and saw Sir Winston in his bath chair being wheeled in by his nurse. My Father said that I should always remember that moment as he was a very great man, and I do.

We had our first phone installed when I was six, 1964. It did not have a dial, you had to pick it up, make sure that no one was on the "party line", a shared line with your neighbours, and then wait for the operator to say number please. She then put you through.

Teenage in the Seventies

I went to the same school from the age of five to sixteen-infant, junior and secondary.
The school was a short walk from my home. The girls in my class all had to give up science when we were fourteen to take business studies and typing. We had home economics twice a week, my first lesson was to learn how to boil a dishcloth. I still do this sometimes its very satisfying. There was a small mock up of a home, with a living room, bedroom and bathroom. We learned to polish, hoover and clean the bathroom. We were taught basic cooking skills such as making pastry, cakes and cooking meat. Every year we would make a Christmas cake and there was a competition for the best icing.

One of the main topics of conversation amongst the girls at secondary school would be music and television programmes. We were one of the first families to have colour television. My Parents rented it from Radio Rentals. There were only three channels so everyone watched the same things. We all loved the sit-coms and soap operas. Top of the Pops was compulsory viewing. The music was Trex, Sweet, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, and Brian Ferry. We used to see the bands at local venues and in London at the Rainbow Theatre, Hammersmith and Lewisham Odeon. There was a telephone number you could ring to listen to number one. Ten of us used to crowd into a phone box to listen each week, you were lucky if you heard 5 seconds of it.

I was a Girl Guide and used to enjoy going camping once a year. We cooked over an open fire, all the food tasted of smoke. The toilets were very basic, I am sure that today’s health and safety rules would not permit children to use them. We slept on the floor in old ex-army tents that leaked and probably didn’t wash for a week but what fun we had. I learned an awful lot on those camps. I can remember a big event at Crystal Palace Stadium it was a jubilee. I was a cloud and had to run in a circle with a paper plate on my head covered in cotton wool, along with a few thousand other girls.

I had various Saturday jobs including microfilming the forms at a local football pools company. I worked from 0800 until 1330 and earned £1.14. I wanted more money so I left and went to work for BHS, there I earned £4.00. This used to buy an outfit, the latest seven-inch single and pay for going out on Saturday night. We used to go to discos, it would cost 25p to go in and we would have soft drinks. We would never have thought of drinking too much.
Fashion was very important. Clothes and make up from Biba and shoes from Sasha. I never wore the really high platforms as I am so tall.

My Parents were gave me quite a lot of freedom. My Father would always pick me up from where ever I wanted. He sometimes would pick a group of us up in the Police Van if he were on night duty. How this must have looked to other people in the nightclub!

I have hazy memories of the three-day week in 1972/3. During the power cuts we sat in front of a big coal fire by candlelight. I quite liked the fact the television wasn’t on for once. My Mother used to stockpile things like toilet rolls and sugar, in case of shortages. We were issued with petrol rationing coupons luckily they were never used. Christmas that year was quite strange. The shops were not allowed to have lights in the windows. There were no Christmas lights in London and you were not supposed to have fairy lights in the home.

It must have been around this time that my Father was given a good pay rise. We seemed to be much better off and went on our first holiday abroad. We flew from Luton Airport to Austria on a plane with propellers. This was our first holiday abroad and the first time I had been out of the country. We had to fly to Basel in France and then on by coach to Innsbruck, it took all day. This was because the Olympics were on in Munich and that was the nearest other airport. We were taken to see the setting for the film the Sound of Music. I still hate that film today!

I left school at sixteen and went to work for an American oil exploration company. I was not allowed to be out of work even for a day. I left school on Friday and started work on Monday. The pay was good and I enjoyed the independence that brought. Things were much freer in the work place then. We often used to take long lunches at the pub if it was someone’s birthday or leaving do. The work was interesting and I stayed in that job until I left to have my daughter.

One of my first holidays on my own was to Ibiza. It was beautiful I still remember those beaches. I went with a group of girl friends.

Adult responsibilities

I married in 1979. How very different my wedding was to that of my Daughter. My parents arranged everything, we were married in the Parish church and the reception was in the church hall afterwards. Caterers provided the food and friends of the family ran the bar.

I have two children, Abbie born in 1981 and Andrew in 1984. I am very proud of them both.
I was divorced in 1990. It seems that a lot of my peers have been divorced I wonder if my generation has the highest instance? It was quite tough bringing up two children on my own. I felt that there was a stigma about being a single parent in those days living in quite a middle class area. I am quite proud of the fact that I worked and did not claim any state benefits. The children and I made some good friends with a group of other divorced Mums. We spent many an evening in each other’s gardens with the children playing happily and us chatting over a glass on wine.

Now At Fifty

After thirteen years in retail management I now work in a busy town centre library and I am studying for a professional qualification. I really enjoy the work, its very rewarding and I am learning so much.

I met my Husband Alan through friends. We finally married three years ago after knowing each other for fifteen years. My 50th birthday present from him is a Caribbean cruise, we are going to have two weeks of pampering and luxury. But because I don’t want to act like an old person we are going sailing. kayaking, snorkeling and zip wiring across the rain forest-hooray!